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Angel at the Reins

A shy teenager is inspired by a gentle horse, who may be a little more heavenly than she thought.

Tina, with her horse, Tia, in 1985

Gravel crunched under the wheels of Mom’s car as we pulled into the stable driveway. I leaned out the window, searching the pasture for my best friend, Tialani.

At school I was nobody. All the other kids had money and cool clothes. I wasn’t good enough to be their friend. But Tialani loved me.

“Tia!” I called, climbing out of the car.

Across the pasture, the little chocolate-brown Arabian whinnied and came running. “I wouldn’t have believed that if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes,” said Mom. “That horse came to you!”

I pressed my cheek to her muzzle. “I have to get to work, girl. I’ll ride you as soon as I muck out the stables.”

I met Tialani’s owner, Karen Bragg, when I joined 4-H. All the other girls in the program had horses of their own. As usual I was the odd one out.

“If you work for me after school,” Karen said one day, “you could ride the horses whenever you want.”

I jumped at the chance. Every afternoon, after being invisible at school, I groomed horses and cleaned out stalls. My brother, Bryan, couldn’t understand why anyone would want to do such dirty work.

Bryan didn’t understand. He wasn’t a nobody. He had plenty of friends. I saw them when they came to the house, even if I was too shy to talk to them.

I refilled the water trough by the stable and carried in fresh hay, greeting each horse in its stall as I went by. I loved them all, but Tialani was my favorite.

She was the prettiest horse I’d ever seen: chocolate brown with black shading. Tia nickered when she saw me. She came when I called. She ran to the gate to greet me. The kids at school didn’t see anything special about me, but this beautiful horse did.

I finished mucking out the last stall and ran to the pasture. For an hour before my mom picked me up, Tia and I practiced cantering for my lesson. “My birthday’s next week,” I told Tia when it was time to go. “We’ll spend it together.”

Nobody in school wished me happy birthday that day. None of them even knew I was turning 13. But Tia waited for me like always, in the pasture. Karen was waiting too. “I have something for you,” she said. She handed me a brightly wrapped package.

I tore open the wrapping. Ownership papers? My name was printed under Tialani’s. “She’s…mine?” I stammered. “How could Tialani be mine?”

“Tina, that horse decided who she wanted her owner to be a long time ago,” said Karen. “She chose you. I’m just giving her what she wants.”

“Oh, thank you, Karen! Thank you!” I ran out to the pasture. Tialani trotted up to me. “You chose me,” I whispered, rubbing my face against her neck. “You’re the best horse in the world, Tialani, and you chose me!”

When I got home Bryan was in his room with his friend Tony.

“Karen gave me Tialani!” I cried, too excited to be shy around his friend. “I have my own horse!”

“That’s awesome!” said Tony. “I’m not very good at it, but I love to ride.”

“If you want you can come riding with me sometime,” I said. “Tialani’s great with beginners. I could take one of the other horses.” Did I just invite some boy to go riding with me? Well, if a horse like Tialani thought I was special, I was certainly good enough for Bryan’s friend!

Between school, my job and my new horse I didn’t have much time. But one afternoon I finally got Tony settled. I mounted another Arabian from the stable.

“We have to walk alongside the road to get to the trail,” I explained, “but there’s plenty of room.”

It was nice having a person to talk to. Tia was patient and very well behaved, like she knew I wanted to make a good impression. Tony had lots of questions about riding and my job at the stables. We really hit it off.

At the end of the trail, we turned around to head back. By then I considered Tony not just a friend of my brother’s, but also a friend of mine.

“Too bad we can’t stay out longer,” Tony said. He patted Tialani’s neck. “You really have a great horse here.”

I sat a little higher in my saddle. I knew Tia was the best horse in the world, but I didn’t mind hearing other people agree.

I led the way back to the main road. The sun was just starting to go down. About halfway home a pair of headlights appeared in the distance, weaving erratically. “Let’s get the horses into the ditch,” I said. “That guy’s going too fast.”

I urged my Arabian away from the road. The car was bearing down on us. “Come on, girl,” I whispered to my horse. “Tony, hurry!”

The car swerved. The side mirror caught my leg and snapped off.

The Arabian horse screamed and spun around in wild circles with the impact. I clung desperately to its neck.

There was a bang like a shotgun blast. The car’s engine didn’t falter. The driver sped off without even slowing down.

My Arabian stumbled around, terrified. I got my leg up over the saddle and fell to the ground. The horse galloped off away from the road. “Tony?” I yelled.

He lay dazed in the ditch, his leg in an awkward position as if it might be broken. I had to get help. I looked around. The car had thrown Tia about 50 feet from the road. I ran to her and tugged helplessly at her reins. I didn’t want to believe she was dead.

“Someone please help me!” I screamed. My legs gave out and I collapsed onto the ground.

There was a hand on my shoulder. I looked up and saw a woman, plainly dressed but very pretty, her hair shiny like silk. Where had she come from? I hadn’t seen headlights. She helped me up and led me to her car. “We shouldn’t move your friend,” she said. “We’ll go get help for him and Tia.”

She drove me up the gravel driveway to Karen’s house. My parents were waiting inside with Karen. The woman told them about the accident, and I wondered how she knew all the details.

My father rushed off to Tony. Karen called an ambulance. Mom took me to the bedroom to lie down. I never saw the woman again.

Tony’s leg was broken, but he was going to be fine. The Arabian I was riding reappeared unharmed. Only Tia was gone forever. My best friend. The only one who ever thought I was special. Could I face the world without her?

A few days after the accident I sat with Mom and Karen having a cup of tea. “I wish that woman who brought you home had stayed longer,” said Mom.

“I didn’t even hear her leave,” said Karen. “As a matter of fact, I didn’t hear her drive up either, and we always hear cars on that driveway.”

“And I didn’t see her headlights on the road,” I said. “It was like she just appeared out of nowhere.”

“Maybe she did, Tina,” Mom said.

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe she was your guardian angel.”

That seemed pretty far out. God wouldn’t send an angel for a nobody like me, would he? I had to take that back. To Tialani I wasn’t a nobody. I was special. Maybe God thought I was special too. After all, he sent me a horse and he sent me a friend.

Now I believe he sent me an angel too. How much more proof did I need? I was special to God. And it doesn’t get more special than that.


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